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Hear Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, Screaming Trees’ Barrett Martin’s Jazz-Fusion Experiment

With Soundgarden, Kim Thayil often experimented with how he played guitar, changing the strings’ tunings and incorporating feedback into the band’s sound. He brings that sense of musical adventuring to “The Firebird,” a track off the upcoming album by the Barrett Martin Group, a jazz-fusion ensemble that the former Screaming Trees drummer leads. The song, featured on the group’s new album Scattered Diamonds, finds Thayil playing along with the brass section’s uplifting melodies before exploring more avant-garde sounds for a quiet improvised solo that blends woozy feedback with the horns. The album is due out August 28th.

“I’ve known Kim Thayil since the early Seattle music scene, but we really began our in-depth conversations on the 1996 Lollapalooza tour, when my old band, Screaming Trees, opened for Soundgarden and Metallica on that extensive North American tour,” Martin tells Rolling Stone. “Many years later, in 2014, I had the opportunity to audition for Soundgarden when they needed a temporary substitute drummer, and I had a personal dream fulfilled of playing Soundgarden songs — with Soundgarden. Although I didn’t get the gig, it put me and Kim more in touch, so when he came to see my new solo group, the Barrett Martin Group, Kim was floored by my new sound. He loved it. He compared it to a combination of the Jeff Beck Group meets 1970s Miles Davis, which I took as a huge compliment, since they’re two of my major influences, too.”

Martin invited Thayil to sit in on the ensemble’s next recoding session, and the group came up with “The Firebird.” “Kim plays his signature, bending, howling guitar in tandem with the lead melody of the tenor sax player, Hans Teuber,” Martin says. “Kim also plays the spooky, ambient guitar solo in the middle, and end of the song, which is in keeping with his highly original and nuanced approach to the guitar. It made for a perfect hybrid of my vision of ‘future jazz’ in the Barrett Martin Group, with Kim’s already futuristic guitar playing.”

Although Martin and Thayil have been friends for decades, the drummer says that the opportunity to record a jam with one of his friends was especially meaningful. “It was one of my favorite recording sessions of all time, and I’ve had a few of those over the decades, with R.E.M., Queens of the Stone Age, Stone Temple Pilots, Mad Season, etc.,” he says. “Recording with Kim was one of the best sessions, ever. And I’m sure we’ll do more.”

Scattered Diamonds also features the Barrett Martin Group’s collaborations with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Naked City’s Wayne Horvitz, among others. Martin launched the project with 2004’s The Painted Desert, and he won a Latin Grammy in 2017 for his work on singer-songwriter Nando Reis’ Jardim-Pomar album. In addition to Scattered Diamonds, Martin also recently released two e-books, The Singing Earth and The Way of the Zen Cowboy, and he plans on going out on what he’s calling the One-Man Storytelling Tour next year. At those gigs, he’ll read from his books, present slideshows, and perform music alone on percussion instruments.

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